30 Years of Adventure: A "Celebration" of Dungeons & Dragons


The inside book jacket explains that "(t)his book is a celebration of that phenomenon (D&D, natch) and a tribute to the millions of players who brought the Dungeons & Dragons experience to life." When I think of tributes, I think of missing man formations flying over stadiums, of 21-gun salutes and taps played on a lone bugle. As a tribute, this book is the equivalent of a handful of cellophane balloons released from the rooftop of a car dealership just before noon on a Sunday, with Kool and the Gang playing on a cassette deck nearby.

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher once made the class grade each other's papers. As she read off answers, I stared in horror at the paper I had been given from the girl next to me. Every answer was wrong. Every one. By the time I had ticked off the 30th incorrect answer, I was practically in tears. I felt responsible, somehow, for the problems on the page. It would not be her fault that she failed, but rather my own fault for calling attention to her flaws. I felt ashamed. I felt awful.

That was twenty years ago. I've gotten over it.

That said, I have purposely not read any other reviews of the new 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons coffee table book, so I have no idea if other "students" will judge this book in the same way I am about to. Which is to say, with a critical eye and a sad, sad shake of my head.

The inside book jacket explains that "(t)his book is a celebration of that phenomenon (D&D, natch) and a tribute to the millions of players who brought the Dungeons & Dragons experience to life." When I think of tributes, I think of missing man formations flying over stadiums, of 21-gun salutes and taps played on a lone bugle. As a tribute, this book is the equivalent of a handful of cellophane balloons released from the rooftop of a car dealership just before noon on a Sunday, with Kool and the Gang playing on a cassette deck nearby. (Ed. Used to say "children's hospital" but I was informed that real children's hospitals do that, so I changed it to get back to the tackiness I was going for originally.)

OK, perhaps that's harsh. Or perhaps you really like Kool and the Gang. In either case, I'll do my best to lay out my case clearly, and in the end you can decide for yourself if you think my harshness is justified or not.

The Cover

I walked by this book at Barnes & Noble five times before I noticed it, even though it was laying flat on a table, its cover clearly visible to me. As covers go, it's really not designed to catch the eye. It's a book designed for rogues, or wraiths, muted gold images wrapped within a translucent sheet of white plastic, making the whole thing look like it's being viewed through a heavy mist, or perhaps a Wall of Fog spell. The title, if you read it off as you notice the elements on the page, is something like "Years A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons Of Adventure 30." The "30" in this case is represented by two 8-sided dice, clever enough but very difficult to read. And why 8's? Why not 20s? Wouldn't that make more sense if we were trying to be clever? (Ed. It's been pointed out in the comments below that it's actually a d8 and a d10, though my opinion stands.)

Front Matter

The book boasts on its cover that it features a Foreword by Vin Diesel. I guess this is high praise for the 16-year-old set who likes that movie where he drives around really fast, or maybe that one where he plays that criminal with the spooky eyes. I've got nothing against Vin Diesel, and I know he plays Dungeons & Dragons and all, but come on, folks. 30th Anniversary and there's no place for Gary or Dave in your book? Throw 'em a bone. Hell, Steve Jackson could write a more appropriate Foreword.

For the young folk, "Gary" and "Dave" refer to Mr. Gygax and Mr. Arneson, respectively, two gentlemen who are peripherally involved in the role-playing industry. And yes, Gary Gygax does have a piece in the book. But it was written in 1999. Somewhat tellingly, it includes the following statement by Mr. Gygax: "We were in a great hurry to get it done, and I was concerned about editing."

One wonders if the same could be said for this book.

At any rate, after Mr. Diesel's piece is an Introduction by the book's editor, Peter Archer, the brand manager for novels at Wizards of the Coast. His four-page intro is of particular interest for two reasons. First, it lays out the basic history of Dungeons and Dragons, from its roots to the release of Eberron. This history is important, because we're going to hear it retreaded and retold over and over and over again by different authors, and sometimes multiple times by the same author, on the pages that follow.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, his introduction is also some of the only text in the entire book which is grammatically correct, properly and cleanly laid out, and free of typos (at least insofar as I am aware). This book is positively awash in errors. If this were an OGL-released d20 product put on the market by a small publisher, said publisher would be lambasted for their sloppy work. I'm not about to pull any punches here because it's Wizards.

About the Graphic Design

Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.

Listen, I'm not the world's foremost expert on layout and design. Heck, I consider myself a writer by trade, though I do layout at my day job. But it doesn't take an expert to take one look at this book and go "Yeagh."

"Yeagh," here, interpreted as a vomiting sound.

All the basic rules of design are broken for no apparent reason other than to give the book a "hip" or "cool" layout. Instead of being presented with the text at a normal 90 degree angle to the page, every single page has the text skewed to the right or the left, so you have to constantly wiggle the book back and forth, back and forth to read it clearly. And the page numbers are no help. They're little 10-sided dice in the margin on right-hand pages, difficult to read (I didn't even notice they were there until I was halfway through the book) and serving no purpose other than to look cute.

The skewing of the pages left and right, left and right, means that the text is forced to flow in unnatural ways across pages, leading to awkward widows and orphans (when single words or sentences are left abandoned at the top or bottom of columns) and horrible breaks between pages and even within sentences:

"And the best part is that as you defeat more

monsters and gather

more treasure your character's chances to fight

and survive improve."

Flowing text between pages is simple in today's desktop publishing applications. You set up text boxes on each page and then you just paste all your text into the first block. Magically, it flows through the entire document, filling the boxes. Then you just save the document and send it off to the printer. Well, you're not *supposed* to do that. But that's evidently what happened here. Just a wee tiny little itty bit of nudging could have made this book a billion times more readable. Consider:

"TSR tackled the task of translating the game"
(next page)
"into the French language."

Why not adjust the leading or spacing a fraction of an inch to bump this back so the entire sentence fits on the first page, avoiding the awkward break? It's easy, really. I do it every day.

"Every staple of fantasy/swords & sorcery fiction could"
(next page)
"find a comfortable home in the Known World."

This one is even more egregious. At the bottom of that first page, there's a full two inches of space. You could have fit an entire new paragraph there, much less eight words. Come on, guys.

All this comes to a head in the latter pages of the book, when numerous smaller sub-articles by the likes of Ed Stark and Ryan Dancey are interspersed with the main narrative in a confusing jumble, both the sub-article and the main article continuing on across two, three or more pages. This causes the reader to have to flip back and forth numerous times to try and follow the separate threads, with amusing consequences. I think at one point Peter Adkison interrupted himself.

Moving on, there's much to be said of the overall graphic design, and none of it is good. Artwork, lifted from 30 years of Dungeons & Dragons products, is sprinkled willy-nilly with little regard for the subject matter. Some dramatic pieces have their most interesting bits cropped off seemingly at random. Other pieces are just reversed out and pasted on black or dropped behind a red mask, presumably for a "dramatic effect" akin to passing around a bowl of spaghetti when your players discover a pit full of snakes. In a chapter on AD&D 2nd Edition, several 1st Edition AD&D books are pictured. In a chapter on the 2nd Edition Historical Sourcebooks, several cover images are used over and over again on successive pages. And so on.

Color schemes shift from page to page, with any notion of good contrast tossed out the window. Here we have black type on white, then black type on brown, then black type on brown with a gradient from light brown to dark brown, then white on red. Page 189 is one of my favorites. Heck, even the notion of simple reversed text is thrown to the wolves here: compare 208 to 211; same white on purple scheme, different degrees of brightness. No doubt some of the pages even feature black text on a black background, though not having elven blood in me I lack the Darkvision necessary to perceive this strange and cryptic Moon writing.

Even simple things like two-page splashes are handled poorly. Check out pages 196-197 (or rather, try and find them, since they're not numbered) and try and decipher the subtitle mashed into the gutter of the book.

About The Editing (or lack thereof)

I have no way of knowing exactly who's to blame here. As Editor, I could be quick to point a finger at Mr. Archer, but perhaps here "Editor" means that he pulled the material together and strung it out so it made sense, in which case he did a good job. Whoever was responsible for copyediting and layout, however, should have to do this book all over again from scratch, on their own time. Some of the mistakes made here are positively amateurish, others so obvious that it's incredible that they weren't caught before this went to press.

Some examples of typos, poorly-phrased sentences and other gaffes that absolutely should have been fixed by an editor, chosen randomly from about the book:

"My second greatest love however, next to acting was gaming."

"My own campaign world grew out of that original map that I took a half hour to draw. z" (sic)

"...we saw a merchant caravans crossing the desert..."

"I may remembering wrong..."

"1976 was a year of beginnings as the Ral Partha miniatures company appears on the scene."

"using your time in a ways that's entertaining but also enriching."

"Until TSR published that Gary Gygax's home campaign setting back in 1975..."

"We start in town and buy your stuff."

"poured over books" (referring to reading them, not dumping water on them)

"dire straights"

"silly to support two separately game lines"

"hen we released the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons..."

and the best, on page 253,

"Advance Dungeons & Dragons"

Lest you think me harsh, let me point out that these were all things I caught on my first read through the book. I'm not a professional copy editor by any stretch of the imagination, and I make mistakes all the time. But for a product which is made out to be this huge 30th Anniversary Celebration, you'd think someone would actually read through the thing one last time before it went out the door to try and fix stupid errors and clean up grammar. Sometimes Dungeons & Dragons is all caps, sometimes not. Sometimes Dungeon Master is capitalized, sometimes not. This is something a spell-checker could fix automatically had anyone taken fifteen seconds to run it.

Part of the problem (and no doubt, one of the arguments used to defend it) is the fact that a number of the typos and grammatical errors appear in one-page "celebrations" written by various people in the entertainment industry, some well known and others of more dubious fame. "We didn't make the errors," this mythical copy editor might say, "those people made the errors." To which I reply, any editor worth his salt knows that it's preferable to correct typos, fix punctuation and even slightly massage quotes to make them sound correct. No one wants to go down in print sounding like a goober, even if they typed the sentence out that way. They'd be happy you fixed it. We all would. Some of these little one-pagers read as if they were copied out of Outlook and pasted into InDesign without a second glance.

And speaking of stupid editing mistakes and one-pagers, take note of Nik Davidson's contribution on page 98. You'll be seeing it all over again on page 194. How this page got replicated, paragraph break error and all, is beyond me. It smacks of sloppiness, however, as does the whole book.

Which I will now discuss.

Chapter 1. The Adventure Begins

By Harold Johnson with Gary Gygax

As first chapters go, this is one of the worst. In fact, as all chapters ever written go, it's one of the worst, on countless levels.

To start with, the predominant color scheme in this chapter is red and black, which makes everything look as if the layout artist slit his wrists over his work in despair. Turning everything blood red does not make it more dramatic, guys. It makes it more muted and hard to see.

Then there are the stupid typographical errors. The introductory "adventure" is written across a two-page spread entirely in italics, for no other reason than to be in italics. Though the fact that it's difficult to read is certainly in its favor, as it's hardly stellar work, featuring numerous examples of the aforementioned bad spelling, run-on sentences, bad grammar and godawful writing:

"Two were warriors as could be seen by their swords, the dwarven one sported a long beard and held a heavy warhammer. The other two were something of an oddity-- the first wore long robes and carried a slender wand of white ash, his eyebrows were animated as he took in the scene. The other wore a loose fitting tunic and held a thin bladed dagger in one hand as his enigmatic grey eyes took in the setting."

Chris Prynoski's one page "celebration" (page 22) features more bad writing, including an obviously (and badly) contrived "example" of gameplay which introduces the words "fucked" and "piss" into the book for no apparent reason other than to be crass.

"What do you mean, 'What are you gonna do'? Don't I have to roll these fucked-up-looking dice or something? What am I supposed to do?"

"You can do anything."


"Okay. My guy pulls down his pants and pisses on the altar."


"I'm rolling to see what happens to you."

"Shouldn't I be rolling to see what happens to me?"

"I'm the Dungeon Master, dude."

Riiiiight. Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Prynoski is telling the story sans embellishment, as it actually happened. Even so, it should be up to an Editor to say "You know, this is the one single page in the book where we use profanity, so maybe I should EDIT the page to remove it, for consistency. Since I'm the Editor. And stuff."

Cardell Kerr's one pager, which faces Prynoski's, is fairly coherent, but there are little things that suggest -- like the rest of the book -- that these "celebrations" were all pasted together from emails with little or no editing:

"Wow . . . thinking about it, is almost embarrassing. I mean, kobolds would never ride dragons!"

Other such "celebrations" in this chapter include testaments from Stephen Colbert, Wil Wheaton, Sherman Alexie and Ben Kweller, whose enlightening thoughts include one of the best collections of unrelated sentences in the entire book:

"When I was young, I read a ton of the Dungeons & Dragons Choose Your Own Adventure books. Music's always been my one passion in life. I had piano lessons when I was growing up..."

This first chapter of the book also features sections entitled: "Where Did It Come From?", which reiterates the story of D&D's historical origins; "A Gathering of Gamers," which not only discusses GenCon's beginnings, but also reiterates the story of D&D's historical origins; and "The Birth of D&D," which reiterates the story of D&D's historical origins.

I only wish that they'd included a section that reiterated the story of D&D's historical origins. Alas.

Chapter 2. Worlds of Adventure

By Steve Winter with Peter Archer and Ed Stark

The second chapter of the book is a tour of the main campaign settings that have been featured in Dungeons & Dragons throughout the years. As a whole it's much better written and edited than the first chapter, with more factual and relevant information and less "golly-gee" gushing.

Things begin to turn around when Peter Archer discusses Dragonlance, though he does lead off his retelling of Krynn's development with an interesting bit of time travel, stating that "Tracey Hickman, a Mormon, had returned from his mission abroad in Indonesia in March 1980" and then later that "Laura Curtis had introduced Tracy to D&D in 1997 before he went abroad."

The portions written by Steve Winter are excellently done, this inconsistency leading me to believe that the majority of the book was self-edited by the respective authors, without a final pass-through at the end. Winter's piece on the Forgotten Realms is fascinating, containing anecdotes and information about the creation of the Realms that I was previously unaware of, and his sections on Mystara, Spelljammer, Ravenloft, Dark Sun and Planescape contain similar revelations.

In fact, my only real gripe with the bulk of this chapter are things I've mentioned previously: awful layout (including some truly bad design decisions in the Planescape section, inserting one-page "celebrations" in the middle of the main narrative in a confusing fashion), and the bad editing and inconsistent writing in those same one-pagers. Some of them (Dan Trethaway's, and Feargus Urquart's) are well-written and edited, while others are disjointed (Laurell K. Hamilton's) or somewhat self-serving and seemingly irrelevant (John Frank Rosenblum).

Chapter 3. AD&D 2nd Edition

By Steve Winter

I expected this section to be well-written and informative, as the author, Steve Winter, had demonstrated his ability to do both those things in the previous chapter. I was not disappointed. Here, Winter covers not only the origins of 2nd Edition, but the PHBR Reference Books, the Historical Sourcebooks and the infamous Black Box (aka 1070), which was one of the best-selling items ever (over 500,000 copies worldwide). Winter seems bittersweet writing about these products, recognizing their flaws and respective levels of popularity (or lack thereof). Though not laid out so clearly, this sense of melancholy is a good lead in to the next chapter.

Chapter 4. From TSR to Wizards of the Coast

By Peter Adkison with Ed Stark

This chapter talks about Adkison's view of the merger, from the point of view of Wizards of the Coast, interspersed with Ed Stark's view from TSR. It's an interesting way to present the information, and is therefore informative and interesting. As mentioned earlier, the layout choice to intersperse and interweave these smaller sub-articles through the main narrative makes it somewhat difficult to read, but here it almost seems to benefit the section's two-headed approach.

Sub-sections of the narrative are entitled "How I Became a D&D Fan," "TSR Needed Help," "The Acquisition of TSR," "Wizards of the Coast" and "Building TSR to Last," all self-explanatory as to the sort of content they contain and all interesting. "How I Became" really gets across the wonder of discovery, and "Needed Help" explains in layman's terms how it was that TSR crashed and burned despite record sales. "Acquisition" includes information on Ryan Dancey and the million dollar fax, while "Wizards" and "Building" wrap up the narrative nicely, bringing fact and feeling together quite nicely.

As a whole, this is perhaps the best part of the entire book, though as it starts on page 200 of a 284 page book, it's not really enough to save the whole.

Chapter 5. Third Edition

By Peter Adkison

As one might expect, this chapter covers the origins of 3rd Edition, discussing some of the design decisions that went into its development and covering topics such as the Open Gaming License that modern gamers are probably more familiar with. Though informative, it's bound to be less interesting to most readers since, unlike previous material, it's neither truly historical (it discusses events of the past five years) nor really revelatory. The section also suffers horribly from the poor layout discussed earlier, with numerous sub-articles running alongside and in-between the main narrative. Overall, it's a confused mess, and a slight downturn from the previous chapter.

Chapter 6. Into The Future

By Ed Stark

Really more of an Epilogue than a Chapter in itself, this consists of more graphical content than actual information. Here, computer games, "mature" products like the Book of Vile Darkness and Hasbro's purchase of Wizards of the Coast are discussed in more detail, though not with as much "oomph" as other sections of the book. It all feels tacked on, a feeling exacerbated by the fact that on page 282, halfway through the section, suddenly none of the paragraphs are indented. And then there's this:

"But things remained quiet. There were a few shake-ups, but mostly outside the RPG R&D department. Hasbro didn't interfere with us, and we kept our heads down for them."

And we turn the page and...


That's the end of the book, folks. That's how it ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper. It's as if everyone just got tired of looking at it and stopped working on it. Appalling.


As far as I'm concerned, only three people need to be called out onto the carpet on this one:

First, the Editor, Peter Archer. Sorry Peter, but you get a C. I'll grant you that it's not like there's a typo on the front cover but there is, on average, one typo or other error on every page of this book. For every one perfect page there's one with two or three errors on it. The editing is at best inconsistent. The middle of the book is much better, but it's far from perfect, and the first chapter really ruins the mood early on. Since there's no copyeditor listed in the credits, I have to point the finger Archerwards. Maybe it wasn't your fault. But we gotta blame someone, and your name's listed first. But you're not alone.

Art Direction: Matt Adelsperger

Graphic Design: Matt Adelsperger & Brian Fraley

Typesetting: Matt Adelsperger & Brian Fraley

Together you guys get a D. This is really bad. Really. I can sort of comprehend how this was perceived as a cutting-edge art book with nifty crosswise and crooked layout, lots of colors and a slapdash, thrown-together look. I just think it looks sloppy. As an art book, maybe it's quite the achievement. As a celebration of the greatest RPG ever published, it sucks.

The Price

$49.95? Are you kidding me? For this? It's worth half that, and I expect it'll be half that in about two weeks when it winds up in the half-price bin. I'm not about to take my copy back (I can write it off on my taxes since I wrote this review, after all), but I'm not inclined to show it to my gaming friends.


This book does not make me want to celebrate Dungeons & Dragons. It makes me frustrated and sort of angry that this sloppy product was foisted off on us. So much more could have been done, and so much better. Even if no additional content were added, a cleaner layout with better use of graphics and a single pass through by a copyeditor could have caught most of the mistakes I mention above, and helped make it a delightful read. But alas, no. I see nothing stylish about being random and sloppy. If this were anything other than a Celebration of 30 years of D&D I might be more forgiving, but it isn't, and I'm not. We deserve better.

The middle of the book, especially the portions written by Mr. Winter and Mr. Adkison, are really interesting, fun and informative. But these highlights are dimmed by the broad shadow cast by much of the other material, including some of the more awful "gee whiz" one-pagers and the entirety of Chapter 1.

I'd recommend this book if you're a true fan, a completist, or if you have 50 bucks to spend. I would not recommend you buy this as a Christmas gift for someone else, because really they'll probably be disappointed, and you don't want that. Give them a $50 gift certificate for your FLGS instead. It'll be much more appreciated, and chances are the product they buy with that money will get them a much cleaner, much better edited product than this.

Let's hope the "50 Years of Adventure" book is a little better than this. Assuming we're still reading books in twenty years, of course.

It's 1:45 am and I'm cranky and going to bed. Hopefully I won't be drummed out of the industry for having written such a scathing review. I really wanted this to be good. I did.


I think you nailed this one on the head. We should all be dissapointed

Then again, if you haven't got used to the fact that WotC doesn't edit their D&D products for crap by NOW, you haven't been paying attention.

For a set of game designers apparently focused on putting such definite terms and conditions into game play (a good thing), and for a company that does Magic:The Gathering, they should have *much* better type editors. Maybe even try a game test or two to see if anything's broken.

How long did the Miasma update take?

You'd think after the beating they took on the lame Dungeons & Dragons movie they'd get smart and start TRYING to redeem themselves. My children have more creativity and imagination in a box of their crayons. I'm with you - sigh.

I thumbed through it. It looks like hell. As an accomplished writer and designer, I was flabbergasted at the very sight of it. I know it's wrong to judge a book by its cover, but it's a horrible cover.

I put it back on the shelf and walked away. Eight-siders don't have zeros.

Wow. I think I need to make a trip to my FLGS just to *see* this monstrosity.

Very good review, thanks, I was going to buy the book but you have very good points. Are they that deep in trouble that they release such crap and think gamers wont notice??? Guess they missed their Marketing roll with a -10 handicap...

You see there is a typo on the cover.

Pretty sad. MoxMonkeys.com has been D&D stuff, and that ain't saying much.

You'd think that after the scathing remarks about editing I would have put a comma in that last comment...but I didn't.

Not to defend this book, but the second die is a 10-sided, which most certainly has a zero on it.

maybe they'll make "50 years of D&D -- version 3.5" later...

I havent read my copy yet, but thank god I only paid $9.95 for it!

Too much of a good thing.

In the mid-90s, White Wolf ramped up the 'artistic' factor of any RPG release in a significant way. The influence of this is especially apparent when you compare the 2e 'look' to the 3/3.5e 'look'.

Looks like Wizards took artistic too far.

...with this product, anyway.

A book more to your liking, and more to what you were looking for when one bought the sorry travesty that you wrote this review one, is "The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible 2nd Edition" written by Sean Patrick Fannon.

This is a great book written for people who don't roleplay who want to understand people who do roleplay. It starts with the history of roleplaying through the late '90's (when the book was published).

The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible 2nd Edition
by Sean Patrick Fannon, Brett Link, Aaron Acevedo, Victoria Cummings

Availability: Usually ships within 1-2 business days.
Edition: Paperback
Product Details:

Price starts @ $4.50
* Paperback: 258 pages
* Publisher: Obsidian Studio; 2nd edition (December 15, 1999)
* ISBN: 0967442907
* Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 8.5 x 10.8 inches
* Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds. (View shipping rates and policies)


"There are very few people more qualified to write about the roleplaying game hobby than Sean, and he's had all of them blackmailed into silence or deported. He entered the hobby with the very first D&D boxed set in 1976 and was never quite right in the head after that. Around 1989, he actually started working professionally in the industry, writing and designing for such games as Champions, Star Wars, Shatterzone, and the FUZION System before going on to spend some "interesting" years in the computer gaming world. Sean also wrote for such magazines as Shadis, Dragon, Adventurer's Club, and InQuest Gamer during these long, torturous years of making his hobby his life.

Sean is now Director of Obsidian Studios, where he pulls Endless Possibilities Out of the Void every day. He lives on the beach in Jacksonville, FL with his beagle, Lady (AKA "The True Face of Evil," AKA "The Notorious Waggle-Butt") and the Alpha Centauran Invasion Force (who he is single-handedly saving us all from by drinking them under the table nightly with pints of Guinness)."

Product Description:
"Everything you ever wanted to know about gaming... but thought you'd be a geek if you asked." Hailed as the best source of information ever created about Roleplaying games, this is the single most important book any gaming fan- or anyone who wants to understand RPGs- could hope to own."

Great Resource for a RPG beginner!, April 7, 2000
Reviewer: "hermetic" (Austin, TX) - See all my reviews
Sean Fannon has done an admirable job in writing a book that easily introduces role-playing games (RPGs) to someone who knows nothing of that strange but wonderful sub-culture, but is curious to know more. Fannon's style is readable and entertaining, balancing tons of useful information with bits of whimsy (the editor's constant "berating" of Fannon in the footnotes for Fannon's endless use of puns is especially funny). You get the history of RPGs, the general outline of how they are played, how to find other gamers, etc. And as a special bonus, you get the art of John Kovalic (of DORK TOWER fame) throughout the book. The only quibbles I have are that the book is not well edited; paragraphs run together sometimes, and some of the "bordered" text runs outside the borders. Also, old gamers will find much of this info redundant, having lived through it all before. In all, though, this is an excellent book for new gamers."

Hope you like it.

"Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere."

So bassicaly what you're saying is this book is edited about as well as everything TSR ever released?

I am so very thankful you wrote this review. I was considering buying the book as a gift. Interestingly, all the copies at my local Barnes and Noble are shrinkwrapped, so I haven't been able to leaf through the book. I now understand why they are sealed in plastic....


Your review is on Slashdot.org but is it yours?


It's an interesting way to present the information, and is therefore informative and interesting.

But is it interesting? ;)

Seriously though: Excellent review. Don't pay any attention to the /. trolls. I will keep an eye on the local discount bookstore for the remaindered pallet of these. I'm thinking $7 is just about the right price for such a book.

it's basically, aktualie.

Ah, so I should have said:
"So bassicaly what you're saying is this book is edited about as well as everything TSR ever released or I ever posted?"


I think my FLGS only ordered one. It sits there, on the bargin shelf, looking depressed. And kinda ugly. I almost feel bad for it.

As with so many Wotc books and products... it seems to be more about making a quick buck than any love of the product or loyalty to the customer base.

Ever since Wotc turned "corporate" and started caring more about their profit margin than the quality of the product and how fun and enjoyable it is to play, they have steadily slid downhill and this pile of trash cleverly disguised as a book is a perfect example of their "lets put something out as fast as we can and see how many suckers we can get to buy it so we can make a quick buck" type of philosophy.

I have been appalled and saddened by Wotc greed and carelessness since they basically destroyed "Magic the gathering" and outlawed any card that wasn't in a current edition within any games or tournements and thus destroyed the value of millions of cards and frusterated and angered thousands of players (myself included, now I have a Jesters Cap and Fork cards that are now worth nothing more than toilet paper). So when I heard that they were buying TSR... my heart sank. Because I knew what they would do to the quality of the product. And unfortunatly I was all too right, and this book is a prime example of that. Don't waste your money on this pile of crap, take the money you would spend on that book and take a chance with another role-playing system.... and maybe, just maybe the corporate fat-heads at wotc will get the hint and start actually giving a damn about the quality of the products they produce.

well, actually, i have to say that WOTC has put a lot of effort into D&D since its purchase of TSR. IMHO the 3.5 core books, the Eberron campaign setting, the book of vile darkness and more are all of very high quality in both form and content. the WOTC published books have some of the highest production values in the industry and I was sadly surprised by the qualities mentioned in this review. i'm certainly not buying it now (maybe there's a chance for a revised "2ed" for this book).

BTW, I've seen very little publicity for this book anywhere - especially next to none on the Wizards D&D site itself... maybe they were aware of this product's state and were too ashamed to advertise it?

Well, from what I have seen and heard, some of the books you refer to (especially the Book of Vile Darkness) were not written and produced by Wotc, but bought from independant writers and game makers and distributed by Wotc. This would explain why they actually of a high quality, while the player handbook and GM guides are strife with typos, mistakes, and other errors that really detract from the game (Among the people I play with we have 3 seperate players handbooks and all three of them have slightly different rules and descriptions of certain things. The most blaring example we found was for the spell "Delayed Blast Fireball". In one book it doesn't have a die cap, while in another it has a maximum of 20/d6.) And even the fact that they had a version 3.5 really speaks to the fact that they care more about putting a flawed product out as fast as they can instead of spending some extra time to make sure that the quality and any gameplay or grammar mistakes are taken care of before they release anything. With Wotc, the bottom line for everything they do is the profit margin and not creating a quality product or any sort of loyalty or consideration for their product base. They are all about forcing players to buy book after book in order to play thei games effectively, and thus increasing their profitability.

No, Rodshark, that's not true.

Generally speaking, WotC hires someone to write a manuscript, rather than the manuscript existing first, and WotC buying it.

Something like this:

Kim Mohan: "Okay, the next book on our list is the Book of Vile Darkness. Monte said he has some really good ideas for this... his outline is solid, as always."

Bruce Cordell: "Yep. Everything seems to be in order for this... it's a bit of a risk, but that's what this business is about."

etc. etc.

A contract is sent to Monte, he reads it, signs it, sends it back, and he's hired. He sits down and writes the book, and sends the manuscript off to WotC.

This is how ALL game books are made these days, at least the ones that aren't self-published. It's very, very rare for the guy who wrote the book to be on salary.

There's alot more money to be made in freelancing but it's alot more work. Speaking as a writer it makes more sense to go at it like that.

Not that this post really has anything to do with the subject....


Well, that being said, my point is still true, the quality of Wotc products is sporatic at best. And like you siad, its rare for the person(s) who made a book, module, or game book to actually be on the Wotc payroll, like you siad, they use free-lance contracts with prospective writers and then just trust in the writer to produce a quality product and rarely (if ever) double check or revise the material that is submitted. Thye just sign on ideas and books that they think might make money and put it out as fast as it comes in so that they can make more money. Like I said in an earlier post, with Wotc, it is more about the profit margin than the product and gamer.


The freelance model can't be the problem, because publishers that consistently put out good stuff use the same method for putting out their products as WotC does.

Perhaps WotC kept on the same quality assurance people that worked for TSR.


"quality assurance people" means "editors"

Many of the people who used to be on WotC's editorial staff have now got D20 publishing companies of their own, many of which are putting out quality product.

And...in my opinion...one of those guys is Monte Cook.

I've given minor praise for Monte's works here and there on these boards. I own about 75% of the Malhavoc Press products and I've either used every product, or intend to go on using them. They're my favorite RPG publisher at this point in time.

To a lesser extent, I like the folks who run Green Ronin and Necromancer Press and Privateer Press.

Don't forget Bastion press, too. Jim Butler's ex-WotC too.

For a counterpoint review, check this out:


I've seen the book. I found problems related to art usage myself, without a chance to actually sit down with it and read it.

In Matt's defense, he had to build this book alone, often at home in his spare time, because the powers that be at Hasbro (and by extension, Wizards) are of that mighty corporate sort that want to trim unimportant things like support staff in favor of really important things like dividends for stockholders.

Also in defense of Peter and the others - not that it's a great defense, but it deserves to be known - this was one of those projects that languished, as I understand it, for a long time while the bean-counters went over everything and made an effort to justify their positions. As too often happens in large corporations, when the go-ahead was finally given, there was no time and no budget left. Plus some of those writers (I won't name names, but one of them sounds like a motel) can't come within several months of a deadline. In short, this mighty ode to 30 years of gaming had to be rushed.

It's a shame, but I am here to tell you that the fault does not rest entirely on the people who had to pull this out of their backsides at a speed which would have killed lesser men and women, but on American corporate structure. I know from first hand experience that WotC works their designers and support staff very hard.

That's a look from the other side, from someone who used to be on the inside. Perhaps I'm still a little bitter about the harsh corporate sayonara given to a great many dedicated, hard-working people, but you should know what's really happening at Wizards. D&D is still the red-headed step-child. Magic gets all the money and time. These people wanted this book to be good, but they were fighting inclaculable odds.

Oh well.

That's not entirely true. WotC has a staff of game designers, and most everything is play tested before it goes out. At least that was the way it still was two years ago when I was given the slap on the back and shown the door.

Since then, however, Hasbro's influence has reduced WotC management to the same kind of cost-cutting minimalism that makes every big American corporation so lackluster.

Lots of chiefs, less and less indians...

Gosh. I haven't purchased any WotC/TSR materials since just about after the AD&D 2ed Monster Manual II came out (and only then to have the set). Our group has been using home-rules and home-made campaigns for so long, we just don't buy this stuff anymore. Home grown games, for us anyway, are so much better.

And we wonder why we haven't moved to 3ed yet? 3.5? Whatever it is?

As one who has been involved with D&D/AD&D for almost 25 years, I can honestly say that we could see the degradation of the material start years ago, and it apparently continues to decline in quality as well as substance. Perhaps this is why TSR found themselves in such dire circumstances as to sell out to WotC/Hasbro?

It certainly isn't your father's Oldsmobile, that's for sure.

Thanks for the review. We'll do our own 30th celebration ... probably with an all-nighter!

But that's just my $0.02 worth.

as an aside, after reading more reviews (including aeon's response to them) i'd like to mention that the concluding point was:

check out the book ("30 years of....") if you can find it in an un-shrinkwrapped form. you mind find it apalling or you might find it intriguing and worth having. don't buy it or leave it just because of the reviews.

Aeon, would you concur this is the right idea?

- have mercy on the newbie -

It's a vain hope to think that WotC/Hasbro will get a clue about the necessity of staff, time and follow-through. It's a pity that this hyped book is such a miserable example demonstrating what's wrong with their management style.
Creative personnel do not fit a traditional management structure. (Magic is exempt because it is an extension of board gaming in its basest form. And even it has its glaring errors.) If anyone at Hasbro figures this out, things might improve. Don't hold your breath.


I envy you, Old Timer. I wish I had the steel to quit buying as many of the new products as I do.

While I still use old rules, I do pull some of the new source material out from products I like and incorporate it into the ever-on-going game. For example, while none of us play Ghostwalk in its pure form, I did buy the Ghostwalk book (50% of the reason was due to it being a Monte Cook work) and I use some of the material in our campaign -- for example, I killed off a beloved NPC, but his "ghost" lives on in the ghosty city of Manifest...so while the guy can't go adventure anymore, the PC's can go talk to him when they need to. Etc.

Regarding home-grown games...some of the best games I've ever played were home-grown.

I was never a big fan of the Birthright campaign, but it seems that particular setting got the snub in this book. There was info on Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Ravenloft, and most of the other campaign settings...but I didn't see any on Birthright.

An unfortunate snub or was there some bad blood over that particular product? Anyone ever play that setting? I only have one source-book from that setting and that's just a monster book (I *LUV* monster books). I think they made like 20 gazetteers or something.

Birthright wasn't bad in it's own right but it introduced alot of new things that I never bothered to use. It encouraged characters to take on lordships and such which ended up degrading the game to micromanaging their domains. It also introduced a absolutely abysmal mass combat system based on cards. If those two things were thrown out then the setting was kinda cool with the bloodline powers and stuff.


BTW, the bloodline powers is sort of back at large in the eberron setting. the dragonmarked houses
- have mercy on the newbie -

Nope, Rogue... didn't buy that either. =)

But that's just my $0.02 worth.

Just a comment on the following pervasive thought:
"...the fault [rests on] American corporate structure."

It's better to say that the fault lies in the court of the specific corporation, Hasbro. I'm not happy with WOTC, mind you, but I have to wonder if some of their recent failings are due to the "Hasbro effect." Everything the giant touches turns to sh**, after all. Look at Hero Quest... where did it go? Down the Hasbro Toilet like everything else.

Their ultimate goal, obviously, is to create an atmosphere of boredom so profound that we're all forced to call our friends over for a weekend of tried-and-true Monopoly (there's a prophetic word).

I was pleased, however that the book mentioned that Mystara existed. Most of the time, its existance is ignored, even though B2 Keep on the Boarderlands and X1 Isle of Dread, two of the most famous D&D modules ever, both were in that setting. I was ticked off though that though they mentioned Mystara and Hollow World, they said nothing about the Savage Coast/Red Steel, which is among my favorite settings TSR ever published (swashbuckling)

BASH! Basic Action Super Heroes!